REVIEW: USYD Revue
WORDS BY BRENDAN O'SHEA
The curtains open. Smoke billows. The familiar opening chords to “Mr Brightside” reverberate throughout the Everest Theatre.
No, it’s not a rock concert. It’s the parodic opening to the 2017 Sydney Uni Revue, carefully choreographed by Amelia Zaunders, delving into the post-2016 political order complete with Pepe backup dancers. It’s the opening to a show that combines the sort of absurdist humour we all know and love with something a bit edgier, a bit more subversive.
If you’re an ordinary everyday student, you probably know the revues as comedy sketch shows performed by fellow students. You wouldn’t be wrong for thinking that – the Sydney Uni Revue is a sort of “greatest hits” of the best content written and produced throughout the 2016 revue seasons. If you were able to catch some of those revues, you’ll probably pick up on some familiar setups – remixed to cater for a new cast. From a man attending the cinema without his late husband, to Darby Judd (to much applause) reprising his role as a rebellious and slightly sensuous cat it can feel like a delightful trip down memory lane.
But maybe you didn’t see the revues last year. Maybe you’re new, and this is your first foray into this carefully constructed absurdist theatre.
Director Gabi Kelland has your back. Although I had seen a few revues last year, this year’s 2017 Sydney Uni Revue didn’t feel like some patched together production. It was a remix of content which blended together splendidly, a political undercurrent flowing between numerous sketches from Melania Trump’s pop culture savvy speech to an almost terrifying rendition of “For the Boys” performed by cultists to toxic masculinity.
There was also an amazing scene which combined this political, edgy humour with the bait-and-switch comedy that is so delightful to see unfold – Will Edwards, dressed like a regular suburban dad, delivering a mundane monologue about how proud he is to be an everyday sort of father. He’s also Abu-Bakir Baghdadi of ISIS.
From a couple inviting their friend to a spit-roast, to an awkward couple dragging a random audience member on-stage to act as a cockblock (for this first night, it was USU Prez Mike Rees), it’s not just political humour. There’s a genuine variety of content on display here, which is testament to the work of various writers and performers whose very best has now been packaged together for this reflection on the year that was.
Punctuating some of these sketches is a DJ, Odine Manfrin, whose synthesised music and trance-like vocals become a sketch in and of themselves. Backing LED lights and smoke machines also helped make this feel like a critical element of the production. At one moment Odine spruiks her collection of CDs on-sale backstage, as if she’s a jobbing DJ and not also one of the Revue’s music directors. The work done throughout the evening by herself, Tom Cardy and Kate Melville added musical flavour to the evening, with certain sketches hinging a punchline on their ability to provide appropriate musical backing.
But I’d be remiss without a further mention of the cast. Although everyone inhabited their sketches organically, with the audience rapt by the performers on stage, there were two standouts worthy of mention. Mattie Longfield’s comedic, but emotionally palpable, ballad to Netflix and streaming ended in rapturous applause and was a late highlight of the night. Particular praise, though, to the chameleonic Georgia Britt who – despite a leg injury – soldiered on wondrously through a retinue of characters over the course of the show.
So in the end, the 2017 Sydney Uni Revue rises above being merely a walk through the greatest hits of last year’s season. Through a team effort this creme de la creme of USYD’s 2016 content gels together into its own immersive, subversive and other “-ersive”s show - working both as a fitting revisit of 2016’s best and a bombastic launch for the start of the 2017 revue season.